Movie Review: Black Panther

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Black Panther released in theaters almost a year ago, to the day. My sister Linda and I saw it right after its February 16, 2018 premiere. So why, I’ve asked myself repeatedly, is there not a review for it posted on my blog? I loved this movie. How could I have NOT written a review for this Marvel Universe movie that is among the Best Picture nominated films this year?

I checked back through posts in February and March of 2018….for an answer. And I found the reason. Just after Black Panther released, I began a nine day movie marathon at my local theater, watching all of last year’s nominated films. I viewed the final movie just before the 2018 Academy Awards aired. And that is how this superhero flick slipped past me, review wise. During the nine days of movies, I saw 12 or 13 films, total, with Black Panther being one of those. I’m sure I intended to write up a review later and then just forgot that I had not produced one.

That’s easily rectified. This evening I watched Black Panther again, as a refresher before at last writing a review. I still love this film!

Movie Review Black Panther

Black Panther Cast

This action adventure film stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis. Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther carries a PG-13 rating, for scenes of action and moderate violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Black Panther is nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Picture, Original Score, Best Song for “All the Stars”, Best Costumes and several technical categories.

Movie Review Black Panther

A Prince Becomes King

The film opens with Prince T’Challa (Boseman) learning that his father, King T’Chaka (Brown), has died. Okoye (Gurira), head of the all female fighting force in his country, escorts T’Challa back home to Wakanda. Along the way, they extract T’Challa’s former lover, Nakia (Nyong’o) from an undercover operation that she leads.

Wakanda formed centuries ago, when five warring African tribes squabbled over a meteorite that fell to earth. Made of an alien metal called vibranium, the meteor affects heart shaped herbs growing nearby. When one of the warriors eats the herb, he acquires superhuman abilities. He becomes the first Black Panther, uniting four of the tribes to form the nation of Wakanda. The people of Wakanda use the vibranium to develop highly advanced technology. Fearing people will seek to take what is theirs, the Wakandans isolate themselves from the world, even as they build an astounding city.

T’Challa returns home, reuniting with the former king’s most trusted friend, Zuri (Whitaker),  his mother, Queen Ramonda (Bassett) and sister, Princess Shuri (Wright). Though young, Shuri runs the nation’s technology department. At the kingship ceremony, T’Challa is challenged by the leader of the fifth tribe, the Jabari. M’Baku (Duke) is unsuccessful in overthrowing the prince. T’Challa becomes king and allows M’Baku to live and leave with his tribesmen.

Movie Review Black Panther

A Threat to Wakanda and the World

In London, black-market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Serkis) teams up with an ex US black ops soldier, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Jordan). Together they steal an ancient Wakandan weapon from a museum. Made of vibranium, Klaue intends to sell the axe to an unknown buyer. T’Challa, Okoye and Nakia wait at the rendezvous site in secret, having been tipped off by T’Challa’s longtime friend, W’Kabi (Kaluuya). W’Kabi lost his parents because of Klaue. He longs for revenge.

The deal goes wrong, when the buyer turns out to be undercover CIA agent Everett Ross (Freeman). The Wakandan axe is recovered. However, Ross is seriously wounded in the ensuing chase and fight. T’Challa and his escorts return to Wakanda with Ross, where Shuri uses her technology skills to save his life.

Meanwhile, Killmonger kills Klaue and journeys to Wakanda himself. Once there he reveals that he is Wakandan…the only son of Prince N’Jobu. Killmonger’s father was brother to the former king. While living  in the US with his young son,  N’Jobu dies by the King’s hand for selling vibranium as a weapon of war. King T’Chaka leaves the boy Erik orphaned, and alone.

Erik challenges T’Challa’s right to the throne and the two battle. T’Challa is wounded and thrown over a waterfall. Assuming he died, Erik becomes king, and the Black Panther. His intentions for Wakanda are less than honorable. His actions threaten the nation, and ultimately the world.

If ever Wakanda needed a good man, with a good heart as their king, it is now.

Movie Review Black Panther

My Thoughts on Black Panther

This is one of my favorite Marvel Universe films. I love the culture of Wakanda. For centuries the people have hidden who they are, to protect themselves and their technology. They fear what the wrong person could do with vibranium. However, the younger Wakandans realize that hiding their light, so to speak, their magnificent gifts, is not the best way to live. The desire to offer help to the world and to make a difference, changes long held beliefs and old perspectives.

Chadwick Boseman is wonderful as the good hearted King T’Challa. He transforms into the Black Panther for the purpose of saving lives, not to terrorize. Another favorite character, for me, is M’Baku, portrayed with humor and a deep sense of honor by Duke.

The storyline and characters tie in with the bigger Marvel Avengers story, which continues this spring with Avengers: End Game.

This is the first time the Academy has nominated a superhero type film for a Best Picture Oscar. Black Panther is a powerful movie with deeper messages. And it has done incredibly well, worldwide. I’m looking forward to seeing how it fares at the Oscars.

Movie Review Black PantherM’Baku, played by Winston Duke. 

Heading to the Oscars

As a reminder, here are the Best Picture nominated films. Click the links to read other reviews.

I have four films left to see this next week, as the Academy Awards air next Sunday night, February 24. This weekend I intend to mark The Favourite off my list and pick up the last three movies during the week.

I love movie award season. It makes my heart sing to see great films and interesting films and off the wall films, and all the people involved who labor to bring these works of art to the big screen, rewarded for creativity.

I’m cheering for Bohemian Rhapsody to capture the big award. However, there are several nominees, including Black Panther, that I’d be thrilled for if they took home the Oscar. I’ll be watching…with eager anticipation.

Movie Review Black Panther

Pick up Black Panther on DVD or rent through Amazon Prime HERE.

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Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

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Mary Poppins, the original movie, changed my young life. I first viewed it at age six and it captivated me. The storyline, characters and music enchanted and inspired. However, it was the way Mary Poppins lived her life that most caught my attention. She was magical and good things happened when she appeared. Here was someone, albeit fictional, who lived a life beyond the ordinary, with confidence and grace.

I wanted to be just like her.

Fifty-five years pass and I’m back in the theater, ready to be captivated all over again, with Mary Poppins Returns. I attended a matinee showing last weekend, accompanied by my sister, two of her granddaughters, my mom, and my great nephew.

Movie Review Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns Cast

This musical fantasy film stars Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury. Directed by Rob Marshall, the movie carries a PG rating and has a run time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Although Mary Poppins Returns is not among the Best Picture nominees, it is up for four Oscars, including Original Song “The Place Where Lost Things Go”, Original Score, Costume Design and Production Design.

Movie Review Mary Poppins Returns

The Banks Family

In this follow up to Mary Poppins, Michael (Whishaw) and Jane (Mortimer) Banks are grown. Jane, who is not married, carries on her mother’s work in assuring equal rights for women and labor workers.

Life proves more difficult for Michael. A recent widower with three young children, he packs up his art supplies and canvases, and gets a job as a clerk at the bank. Not only does he work at the same bank that his father once did, he lives in the grand old house he grew up in.

The children, twins Annabel (Davies) and John (Saleh) and little brother Georgie (Dawson), have matured beyond their years due to losing their mother and caring for their grieving and distracted father.

Life gets more challenging. Michael falls behind on a home equity loan he secured from the bank. He learns he has five days to pay off the loan in full, or the bank will foreclose on the property. If Michael can find the Certificate of Ownership for shares his father purchased from the bank, the house remains his. If not, he must be moved out by Friday at midnight.

Movie Review Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns

Into this desperate situation, Mary Poppins (Blunt) returns. Georgie snags her on his kite as she floats down from the sky. The nanny immediately meets Jack (Miranda), a London lamp lighter who is assisting Georgie with the wayward kite. Jack remembers Mary Poppins, from his childhood days apprenticing with Bert the chimney sweep.

Mary Poppins escorts the children home, much to the surprise of Michael and Jane who are searching the house for the certificate. The adult Banks siblings are both delighted and confused by their former nanny’s return. Over the years they’ve convinced themselves that their adventures with Mary Poppins never really happened.

With snappy wit, Mary Poppins informs them she’s there to take care of the Banks children…and the young kids too.

Movie Review Mary Poppins Returns

Adventures in London

In brisk fashion, Mary Poppins takes charge. And magic ensues. The young Banks children drop their guard and with relief, enter back into their lost childhood. Their new nanny introduces them to wonders, while restoring order in their lives. Her umbrella talks. Tasks become play. And an antique bowl holds more within it than the kids could ever have imagined.

In the city, Mary Poppins and Jack lead Annabel, John and Georgie through a series of adventures, including meeting Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy (Streep) and dancing with a chorus of lamp lighters.

Meanwhile, Michael and Jane meet with the bank president, William Weatherall Wilkins (Firth), hoping he has a copy of George Bank’s shares. Although he seems helpful and sympathetic, the wily Mr. Wilkins is not as he seems.

Time is running out for the Banks Family. Mary Poppins is there to assist Michael, Jane and the children, not to rescue them outright using magic. Her sage advice and timely enchantments open the way for all to turn out well…if Michael can only see and appreciate what is there before him in plain sight.

Movie Review Mary Poppins Returns

What I Loved About Mary Poppins Returns

I experienced such nostalgia during this film. The movie score contains snippets of melodies from the original Mary Poppins movie, which made me smile.  Woven into the story are references to the first movie and for the watchful viewer there are memorable props scattered throughout the scenes.

For the those who have not seen Mary Poppins, this sequel does well as a stand alone movie. The three children with us had not seen the original movie and yet they all loved Mary Poppins Returns. Kaleb, who is seven years old whispered to me, about half way through the movie, “There’s a lot of singing!” It wasn’t a complaint…this kid loved The Greatest Showman…it was merely an observation. The music, the dance numbers, the hand drawn animation sequence combined with live action are all nods to the original, and a fine tribute they are.

Angela Lansbury appears in a cameo as the Balloon Lady. She was approached to play Mary Poppins in the 1964 film, before Julia Andrews took on the role, so this is a nice touch. Karen Dotice, who portrayed Jane as a child makes a brief appearance also.

My favorite cameo appears near the end of the film. Dick Van Dyke, who played Bert in the first film, portrays the retired bank president. This sprightly actor, who was 91 at the time of filming, performs a lively dance atop a desk. I teared up, and not just because he guest stars. His sweet face shines with joy. I checked to see if he actually did the choreography or was it computerized. He did indeed dance, and not the simplest choreography offered to him, but the most difficult. I am beyond impressed and deeply moved by his obvious enjoyment.

Movie Review Mary Poppins Returns

Hand Me an Umbrella

Mary Poppins Returns shines with the magic, the humor, the wisdom, the playfulness of the first film. Adults who have forgotten who they are and what’s important in life get second chances. The extraordinary shows up routinely. And lost things are never really gone. They dwell in our hearts forever. The overall feel of the movie is positive, in a you-create-your-life-with-your-thoughts kind of way. I loved it.

After seeing Mary Poppins, my six year old self grabbed an umbrella, climbed a tree, and hopped onto the roof of my house. Perched there on the edge, umbrella open, I intended to float to earth as Mary did. My guardian angel must have placed a warning hand on my shoulder, because a sudden wave of caution swept through me. I didn’t jump which is good because I would not have floated.

Or perhaps I would have. Nonetheless, the magic and wisdom of Mary Poppins stayed with me and has colored my life brilliantly. I hope she will return again to the big screen, for more adventures.

Movie Review Mary Poppins Returns

Pick up the Mary Poppins DVD, especially if you haven’t seen it. Listen to the Mary Poppins Soundtrack on a free trial of Amazon Unlimited Music here.

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Movie Review: Roma

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Award season for the film industry is well underway. The announcement of the Best Picture nominated movies sets the stage for this year’s Academy Awards, scheduled to air Sunday, February 24.

Here are the nominees:

For the first time in many years, I have already seen half of the nominees. Previous reviews are linked above to those films, although I just discovered that I failed to post a review for Black Panther. Fortunately, I’ll have an opportunity to rectify that!

Up for review tonight is Roma, a foreign language film out of Mexico.

Movie Review Roma

Roma Cast

Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Nancy Garcia, Fernando Grediaga and Jorge Antonio Guerrero. This drama, written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, carries an R rating, for language and a graphic nudity scene, and has a run time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. This Netflix movie is in Spanish, with English subtitles.

Roma is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actress for Yalitza, Best Supporting Actress for de Tavira, and a host of technical awards.

Movie Review Roma

Movie Review: Roma

Set in 1970s Mexico City, in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, this film tells the story of a domestic worker, Cleo (Yalitza), who works for an upper middle class family. Cleo, and the other housekeeper, Adele (Garcia) clean house, cook, run errands and care for the family’s four children. Cleo is especially close to the youngest son, Pepe (Graf).

Both of the young women live in the family complex, sharing an upstairs room across the courtyard. Their tasks are often menial and their days are long. However, there is a genuine bond of affection between the family members and the hardworking girls.

When tension between the couple, Sofia (de Tavira) and Antonio (Grediaga), escalates, Antonio moves out. His departure frightens Sofia at first, and then frees her to begin to build a different life.

Amid caring for the children and scooping up dog poop and washing countless dishes, Cleo dates a young man, Fermin (Guerrero). However, their relationship seems destined to follow the same path as her employers. Fermin leaves when he learns Cleo is pregnant.

In this slice of life film, the story unfolds, in stops and starts, over the course of a year, with unrest in Mexico City providing the backdrop. The women in the story, Sofia and Cleo, must find their places in the new world they find themselves thrust into. They must discover who they are and in doing so, create a stronger future for the children.

Movie Review Roma

My Thoughts on Roma

I found Roma to be an intriguing film. Shot in black and white, the cinematography is beautiful with interesting angles and camera positions. The focus is on Cleo, who represents a woman named Libo, who raised Alfonso Cuaron, in the Colonia Roma suburb of Mexico City. This isn’t his story though. It is hers, making this movie a touching tribute to Libo.

Roma isn’t an action packed movie filled with special effects. Rather it explores relationships and the bonds that can form between people with vastly different backgrounds. Cleo’s family is from a poor rural village. Sofia has known no lack, financially, however her marriage does not turn out the way she imagined it would.

Some will feel impatient with the movie’s slower pace. However, for me it feels just right. The scenes allow for immersion into the story and, most importantly, to form a bond as well with these women.

Movie Review Roma

My Predictions for Roma

Roma has already done well in early award shows, picking up Golden Globes for Best Director for Cuaron and Best Foreign Film. It is the type of artsy-yet-gritty film that the Academy loves, fresh and imaginative with an intimacy that draws the viewer in.  Roma offers an unapologetic peek into the personal life of Cleo, and to a lesser extent, into Sofia’s.

With 10 nominations, I expect Roma to do well at the Oscars. Will it take home the top award, for Best Picture? I’m not sure, with the strength Bohemian Rhapsody has gathered at the recent award shows. Best Director is almost a sure thing for this film, along with Best Foreign Film. I’ll be watching to see just how far Alfonso Cuaron can take his latest masterpiece.

Movie Review Roma

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Movie Review: The Wife

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It’s award season, for the film industry, a fact that brings me great joy. And the movie The Wife is definitely a contender in the Best Actress category for the upcoming Oscars. In what could be foreshadowing, Glenn Close recently won a Golden Globe for the meaty role.

After listening to her moving acceptance speech during the Globes, I jotted the film down on my “must watch” list. Just a few days later, I noticed The Wife posted on Bookhouse Cinema’s Facebook page, as an upcoming release. I so love this indie theater in Joplin! My mother and I caught an evening showing last night, after a delicious vegan dinner served in the Bookhouse Cinema pub.

Movie Review The Wife

The Wife Cast

This drama stars Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Max Irons, Annie Starke, Christian Slater, Harry Lloyd and Alix Wilton Regan. Directed by Bjorn Runge, The Wife is based on the novel of the same name, by Meg Wolitzer. The film carries an R rating, for language and some sexual content, and has a run time of 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Movie Review The Wife

Glenn Close and her daughter, Annie Starke, who plays the younger Joan in the film.

Behind Every Great Man there is a Greater Woman

The movie’s tagline captures the essence of this intriguing and very watchable movie. Joan Castleman (Close) and Joe Castleman (Pryce) have been married for 40 years. Their grown children, David (Irons) and Susannah (Regan) live nearby. Susannah is pregnant with the first grandchild in the family, while David is finding his voice as a writer.

The Castlemans seem to complement each other well. Joe is outgoing and social, while Joan lives more privately, calling herself shy. A brilliant writer, with a long list of best selling and well received novels, Joe shines, while Joan, the steadfast and quiet presence in his life, encourages him.

Joe receives the prestigious Nobel Prize for literature, necessitating a trip to Stockholm to receive the honor. Joan and David accompany Joe. David appears to be struggling in life, as he seeks his father’s approval for the short story he labors over.

On board the international flight, the Castlemans are boldly approached by Nathaniel Bone (Slater), who desperately wants to write Joe’s biography. Annoyed Joe rebuffs him and refuses to give permission for such a project. The soother, as always, Joan sends Nathaniel back to his seat on the plane, and chides Joe for being rude.

In Stockholm, a whirlwind schedule keeps Joe busy with photographers, interviewers and rehearsals for the ceremony. Joan is free to attend events with her husband, or strike out on her own. She meets Nathaniel for a drink, and quickly learns that the would be biographer questions aspects of Joe’s life. Joan quells the young writer with a look, and a strong verbal warning.

Movie Review The Wife

Flashbacks

As the movie progresses, the story unfolds in a series of current time events and the past, captured in flashbacks. Young Joan (Starke) is a student at Smith College, in 1958. She grows increasingly enamored with her college professor, Joe Castleman (Lloyd). Joan is a talented writer and the professor pushes her to go deeper with her characters. He sees great potential in Joan’s stories.

And yet, back in the present time, in Stockholm, Joe introduces his wife as a non-writer. He basks in the attention well wishers bestow on him, and flirts with the beautiful photographer assigned to him. Joan grows increasingly silent and constrained, with occasional flashes of compassion for the people around her.

In the 1960s Joan continues to improve her writing skills. She is discouraged, however, when she meets a female author, who tells Joan not to become a writer. When Joan questions her, the older woman explains that men rule the publishing world, and no one reads books written by women.

Looking at the present time, through the lenses of the past, Joan appears less serene and more repressed, less content and more resigned. As Joe prepares to receive his award, and recognition for his achievements, Joan seems to near a breaking point, where her carefully ordered world might spin out of her control.

Movie Review The Wife

Young Castlemans

Movie Review The Wife

Older Castlemans

My Thoughts About The Wife

This is a brilliant movie that captivated me right away. I don’t want to give out spoilers. However, I can discuss themes, and The Wife has many.

Major themes include family roles, and the dynamics of a relationship where one person appears to overshadow the other. Often there can be an element present, of taking the supporting partner for granted. Another theme explored is the relationship between father and son, and mother and son. David longs for his father’s approval and wants the early writing success that Joe garnered. Joan encourages her son. Joe pushes him, much as he did Joan when she was younger.

Other themes include finding a voice, and losing one…repression of true desires…and living not out of one’s gifts but in a state of holding space, which begins to fracture the soul. Joe and Joan made decisions early in their lives that affected their mature years. They responded very differently to the growing strain between them and in their own hearts. Joe sought distractions and Joan….well Joan deeply repressed what she most wanted.

Oscar Contender

Glenn Close delivers a phenomenal performance in the complex role of Joan Castleman. I literally held my breath often, watching her. As a woman who learned to bury her emotions, and step back so her husband could occupy the limelight, she is riveting. The carefully composed, blank face, devoid of emotion, belies the turmoil roiling just beneath the surface. Several times I thought she’d crack, allowing repressed feelings to spew and devastate all in her path. And yet, back under iron control she’d go. Ultimately…who she really is can no longer be contained.

It is a scene worth watching. And, this is a role worth rewarding. Watch for Glenn Close to pick up a Best Actress Academy Award nomination next week, for her work in The Wife. I fully expect her to take the Oscar home.

Movie Review The Wife

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Welcome to Marwen: The True Story Behind the Film

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The film Welcome to Marwen caught my attention, with the first preview that I saw. It looked artsy and creative. However, the clincher for me was the fact that the movie is based on a true story. These movies, grounded in reality, always intrigue me.

Because of its based-on-a-true-story status, this post is more than a movie review. Join me in exploring the truth behind the film, Welcome to Marwen.

Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen Cast

This biographical drama/fantasy stars Steve Carell, Leslie Zemeckis, Merritt Weaver, Gwendoline Christie, Stefanie von Pfetten, Janelle Monae, Eiza Gonzalez and Leslie Mann. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Welcome to Marwen carries a PG-13 rating, for language, violence and adult situations, and has a run time of 1 hour and 56 minutes.

Welcome to Marwen Film Summary

Viciously beaten because he is different, and left for dead, Mark Hogancamp (Carell) miraculously survives and slowly recovers. He discovers that the attack left him with no memories of his previous life. Back at home, he creates a world in 1:6 scale, populated with 12 inch dolls. In the made up village of Marwen, Mark works through his trauma with the help of an alter-ego action figure, Captain Hoagie, and the dolls of Marwen, all based on kind women he knows in the real world.

Having lost his ability to draw, due to his injuries, Mark learns to capture Marwen through photography. As the court date approaches, when he will have to face his five attackers, Mark needs Marwen and its inhabitants to help him find courage and strength.

Welcome to Marwen

The True Story Behind Marwen

Mark Hogancamp, a former Navy man, was attacked on April 8, 2000, by five young men who waited for him outside a bar. Witnesses reported that Mark had too much to drink, and while chatting with the men, revealed a secret. He occasionally enjoyed wearing women’s shoes. Mark appreciated women, and felt attracted to them. He found that wearing high heels made him feel connected to that amazing feminine energy.

The men taunted him and called him a wide range of derogatory names. And then waited for him to emerge from the bar. Their horrendous actions were determined to be a hate crime and they were arrested. As recounted in the film, Mark nearly died, having been kicked repeatedly in the head by all five men. He was in a coma for nine days, and suffered brain damage that robbed him of his memories when he awoke.

After 40 days in the hospital, and a year in physical therapy, Mark learned to walk, talk and feed himself again. A man with artistic abilities before the attack, afterward he could not sketch. However, he owned an old Pentax camera and discovered he possessed an eye for photography. Completely adrift, in a hostile world, Mark created a tiny alternate reality of his own, crafted from scraps of plywood and repurposed materials. Marwencol emerged, named after himself and two women he had crushes on, Wendy and Collette. Wendy is portrayed in the movie, both as the woman and a doll in Marwen. Collette becomes Nicol in the film, his new neighbor who moves in across the street. By the end of the movie, the name of the village changes to Marwencol, just like the actual tiny town.

Welcome to Marwen

Women Rule the World

Mark populates Marwencol with 12 inch Barbie and Glamour dolls, and WWII action figures. He creates elaborate stories involving an American fighter pilot, Captain Hoagie, who is rescued and cared for by the all female population in Marwencol. The village is frequently attacked by fictional Nazis. In the movie, these “tormentors” will not stay dead. Representing his attackers, they return again and again, to terrorize him. Mark shares that he built an army of women to protect him because they have never attacked him. He says,

“Women rule the world. We’re just here to keep them company.”

The women in his life, after the attack, expressed kindness to him, helped him, kept him sane. In his village of Marwencol, he captured scenes and vignettes with his camera daily, and slowly worked his way through the trauma. Mark admits that in Marwencol, those five men have been killed over and over. In reality, the five were convicted of their crime. Only three did any jail time.

Welcome to Marwen; The True Story Behind the Film

Healing in Marwencol

Although Mark created Marwencol as a way to heal, and never intended to share it, people began to notice the growing small scale village in the yard. Three years after its creation, a neighbor named David Naugle saw him walking along the road, pulling a scale model military jeep and photographing it. Naugle, who was a photographer himself, asked if Mark had any photos to share. When he saw Mark’s work, he was amazed and sent the photos to a New York art magazine, Esopus. The publication ran a spread, and art shows followed. A 2011 documentary called Marwencol captured Mark’s life and his unique art therapy. That documentary became the spark that led to the current filmIn 2015, a book was released, titled Welcome to Marwencol, containing 600 of Mark’s photos.

In the movie, David isn’t portrayed. However, Mark’s work does get noticed locally and a gallery show opens, featuring his work. Part of Mark’s healing process includes feeling safe enough to leave his home, and Marwen, and appear in person at the gallery shows.

Welcome to Marwen: The True Story Behind the Film

My Thoughts on Welcome to Marwen

I deeply appreciate this film. While Mark sets up scenes with his figures, and captures them with a camera, we get to see the dolls “come to life” in the movie. The CGI is great, turning Steve Carell and the ladies into dolls that resemble them and yet, look like, move like Barbies and action figures.

It is heart breaking to me, the intolerance people have for those who are different. Who gets to say who is different, anyway? Why are we so quick to judge another and then take matters further and punish him or her, for being unique? The film and the true story are about a man’s search for healing, on so many levels. His memories may have disappeared, as a protective measure. However, his art surfaced when he needed a way to work through trauma. I love that. I love that he found his way back into life, through his creativity.

How is Mark doing today? He’s been positively impacted by people who have cared enough to tell his story, through the documentary, book and now the film. He gets out more, attends gallery shows, sometimes wearing heels. He says,

“Things have gotten better, they have gotten as good as they’re going to get. Except my imagination. That keeps expanding.”

Beautiful, Mark. I think you are amazing.

Welcome to Marwen The True Story Behind the FilmThe real Mark Hogancamp. Photo by Tim Knox

 

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Movie Review Aquaman

How fun, to kick off a new year with the new movie, Aquaman. Films have impacted my life in huge ways. Many a story, played out on the big screen, has enchanted me and revealed deep truths about who I am.

In particular, hero or superhero movies occupy an important place in my heart. I grew up as one of those nerdy kids who bought a new DC or Marvel comic book every Saturday. The tales of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman inspired me as a wee girl.

Because of that long, and dearly held connection, as an adult I see every superhero film that releases at the theater. Aquaman is part of the DC Universe, and a member of the Justice League. His comrades include Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and Cyborg. Aquaman, also known as Arthur Curry, appeared in the 2017 movie Justice League. This is his feature film, that fleshes out his story.

Movie Review Aquaman

Aquaman Cast

This fantasy adventure film stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

Directed by James Wan, Aquaman carries a PG-13 rating, for intense action sequences and mild language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 23 minutes.

Movie Review Aquaman

Origins

Aquaman (Momoa) begins life as Arthur Curry, the son of lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Morrison) and Atlanna (Kidman), queen of the underwater kingdom of Atlanta. Fleeing an arranged marriage, Atlanna chooses a life on the surface with the human, Tom. They are happy together, raising their young son, until the past catches up with Atlanna. To protect Tom and Arthur, she agrees to return to the sea.

Arthur grows up with an awareness that he is different. He has unique gifts, including the ability to communicate with marine animals and adaptability that allows him to breathe and speak underwater, and he possesses superhuman strength. Arthur misses his mother, as he matures, however Vulko (Dafoe), an Atlantean, secretly teaches the young man how to develop his abilities.

Arthur hesitantly steps into the role of hero, rescuing those in peril as they travel the seas. Freeing a submarine from pirates, Aquaman angers one of the attackers, who vows revenge. This pirate morphs into Manta (Abdul-Mateen II).

Movie Review Aquaman

Return to Atlanta

Life develops a rhythm, until Mera (Heard) emerges from the sea, looking for Arthur. Atlanta needs a king. Arthur’s half brother, Orm (Wilson) threatens to wage war with the surface, uniting all the kingdoms beneath the sea against the earth dwellers.

Arthur is a reluctant hero. He’s adamant about not being a king. He dwells in both worlds, feeling inadequate to rule in either.

Aquaman’s challenge is to discover who he is, and his place in both worlds. As he journeys, beneath the sea and on land, he gathers around him a group of people who see his potential. And he alarms those who seek power for themselves.

Arthur: I’m no leader. I’m not a king.

Mera: Atlantis has always had a king. Now it needs something more.

Arthur: Well, what could be greater than a king?

Mera: A hero.

This is my favorite quote from the film. My whispered answer, to what could be greater than a king, was a queen! I’ll accept hero, however.

Movie Review Aquaman

My Thoughts About Aquaman

I enjoyed this action packed movie. Jason Momoa caught my attention as Aquaman in The Justice League. He did not disappoint as the star and focus of this feature film.

In fact, I can’t imagine anyone else playing this superhero. The Hawaiian born actor has a larger than life personality, perfect for portraying a big screen hero, even a reluctant one.

I appreciated the cinematography, the flow of the story and the development of the characters. Most of all, I loved watching Arthur become Aquaman. I loved how he accepted himself as the man who inhabits both worlds. His gifts make him the right person to bring those two worlds together. His wisdom and perspective make him Aquaman. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

“My father was a lighthouse keeper. My mother was a queen. They were never meant to meet. But their love saved the world. They made me what I am: a son of the land, a king of the seas. I am the protector of the deep. I am… Aquaman.”

Movie Review Aquaman

Movie Review: Bird Box

Bird Box, a recent Netflix release, is already setting viewing records. In its first week Netflix reports that 45 million subscribers watched the movie. Those are amazing numbers, during Christmas week when holiday films typically dominate.

After seeing a couple of previews, and knowing nothing more about the story, I can be counted as one of those 45 million. I’m still thinking about Bird Box.

Movie Review Bird Box

Cast

Bird Box stars Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, Danielle Macdonald, Tom Hollander, Vivien Blair and Julian Edwards. This drama thriller is directed by Susanne Bier and based on the novel by the same name, written by Josh Malerman. It carries an R rating for language, violence, adult themes and intense scenes and has a run time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Movie Review Bird Box

Chaos and Hysteria

*Warning – spoilers. Ending is not revealed.*

This apocalyptic type story alternates between current time and flashbacks that fill in the narrative.

In the present, a woman and her two small children navigate down a river in a simple flat bottom boat, blindfolded, seeking sanctuary. Malorie (Bullock) gives stern commands to the children, called Boy (Edwards) and Girl (Blair), telling them to listen for danger and do exactly what she says.

The three survived a dark menace that has wiped out most of the world’s population. Their only hope of survival is to reach a community of people that exists further down the river.

The flashbacks take us back five years, to the beginning of the chaos. A pregnant Malorie and her sister Jessica (Paulson) visit the hospital for a routine prenatal exam. Reports are coming in via television and social media that some sort of strange epidemic is sweeping through Russia and Europe. People are killing themselves by the thousands.

Hysteria and chaos quickly arrive in California, as Malorie and Jessica leave the hospital.

Movie Review Bird Box

Don’t Look

In moments people are dying on the streets. Without warning they become extremely frightened or hopelessly sad by something only they can see. The strong emotion drives them to kill themselves.

Jessica wrecks the car and immediately steps in front of a bus. In shock, Malorie is helped to her feet. People are dying around her, even as they try to assist her. A stranger named Tom (Rhodes) propels Malorie to a neighborhood house where they are permitted to enter.

The group inside, organized by a cynical man named Douglas (Malkovich), quickly realizes they must not look outside. The entities causing death and chaos cannot be physically seen, however looking toward them causes the viewer to see their worst fear or their greatest sorrow. The sight drives them to madness and their deaths.

Ultimately the little group includes another pregnant woman, Olympia (Macdonald), and an assortment of people who were once strangers to each other. They are bound together by their need to survive.

Movie Review Bird Box

Bird Box

When food runs low, several members of the group attempt to secure supplies at a nearby supermarket. Donning blindfolds and covering the windows of the car, they use GPS to successfully navigate to and from the store. During their first supply run, Malorie finds three caged birds. She discovers that the birds sense the presence of the entities and brings them back to the house.

The group survives, until Gary (Hollander) arrives, pretending to need help. He talks about people who can look at the entities and live. They find the creatures beautiful and want everyone to look at them. Douglas does not trust Gary. He is right to be concerned.

Ultimately only Malorie, Tom and the two babies survive. Olympia has asked Malorie to care for her daughter if something happened to her. Malorie never names the children, calling them Boy and Girl. For five years the two adults and the children move from place to place and learn how to get by.

And then there are three. Malorie is desperate to protect the children. Guided by a voice on the radio, she places Boy and Girl in the little boat, along with the birds, in a box, and follows the directions she’s been given. Down the river they go. They cannot look. And they must not remove the blindfolds, or they will die.

The fierce desire to live and the hope for safety and a life that is more than survival compels Malorie to keep fighting and to keep going.

Movie Review Bird Box

My Thoughts About Bird Box

This is a tense, well done film with underlying messages that are intended to be interpreted by the viewer. Neat and tidy answers are not provided, about the cause of the epidemic or the nature of the entities. The characters speculate and offer possibilities.

The most simple, but not necessarily correct, interpretation is that the entities have a dark spiritual nature. They are demon-type creatures drawn out by mankind’s downward destructive slide. They can’t be seen, other than as shadowy shapes as they pass a window or as a ripple of energy that disturbs leaves…and birds. However, the characters see troubling visions when the entities are present, causing them to kill themselves. Or those who are deemed mad already don’t harm themselves after seeing the creatures but seek to destroy others.

The birds are an interesting symbol in the film. They are considered messengers that go between humans and the spirit world. Birds have been used, historically, to give warnings of other unseen dangers, such as gas in a mine.

The blindness is symbolic on many levels. See no evil comes to mind. Blind trust also, which is connected to faith. The expression “seeing is believing” fits appropriately into this story. And the eyes being the windows of the soul give deeper meaning as well.

At the heart of Bird Box is Malorie. She’s tough, self-reliant and very protective of her heart. Not naming the children shows her determination to strengthen them so they will survive…as tenderness is seen as weakness…and it shows how much she fears losing them. Detachment seems vital to keeping her heart intact.

I enjoyed Bird Box. The intensity of some of the scenes certainly created tension however the symbolism, deeper messages and unanswered questions stirred my inquisitive nature. I’m still thinking about this movie and intend to watch it again so I can delve deeper.

I’d love to know your interpretations of the story!

Movie Review Bird Box

Movie Review: Robin Hood

I enjoy the story of Robin Hood, the nobility born man who becomes a thief. The outlaw robs from the rich and gives to the poor, transforming into a hero for the common people of Nottingham.

I’ve seen many versions of this story in my lifetime. So you can bet when trailers presented a new telling of this old tale, I intended to see it. This afternoon I slipped into the movie theater…and back to Medieval England.

Movie Review Robin Hood

Robin Hood Cast

This action adventure film stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, J. Murray Abraham and Paul Anderson. Directed by Otto Bathurst, Robin Hood carries a PG-13 rating, for adult themes and violence, and has a run time of 1 hour and 56 minutes.

Movie Review Robin Hood

Robin Hood’s Early Story

Robin of Loxley (Egerton) leaves his home in Nottingham, pressed into service to fight in the Crusades. He leaves as well Marian (Hewson) the woman he loves, promising to return. She vows to wait for him.

Four years later Robin is disillusioned with the war. His differing perspectives on how to treat captured Moors clashes with his commander, Guy of Gisborne (Anderson). The growing conflict between the two men comes to a head when Robin attempts to save the son of a Moor (Foxx), who initially tried to kill him. The youth is executed, however Robin frees the father.

Robin is shot with an arrow during the escape, and subsequently shipped back to England. There he finds his estate in ruins and Marian gone. Friar Tuck (Minchin) informs Robin that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Mendelson) seized his property two years ago, when Robin was declared dead. Marian now lives in a mining town with a man named Will (Dornan).

His old life destroyed, Robin intends to leave Nottingham. Instead he encounters the Moor he saved during the Crusade. The man stowed away on Robin’s ship bound for England. He wants to help Robin take back what’s his…his property, his title, and eventually the woman he loves. Robin of Loxley can’t pronounce his new friend’s name. The Moor tells him the English equivalent is John.

Movie Review Robin Hood

A Nobleman Becomes a Thief

John comes up with a two fold plan: Robin is to assume the role of nobleman to get close to the Sheriff of Nottingham and discover all he can about the heavy taxation that burdens the people. And in secret the young man becomes a thief, stealing from the Sheriff and giving back to the poor, which includes Marian and her man Will Scarlet.

Training begins. Robin is good with a bow, however John teaches him new techniques that enables arrows to be shot much more quickly.

John shortens Robin’s long coat, creating a jacket with a hood that covers the head. A scarf that belonged to John’s murdered son conceals Robin’s face.

As Robin of Loxley works his way into the Sheriff’s favor, he robs him in secret, setting up ambushes and pilfering coins. The people begin to call the thief The Hood, and remain unaware of his real identity. The Cardinal (Abraham) arrives, furious about the thefts and the elusiveness of The Hood.

At last Robin discovers the real intentions of the Sheriff and the purpose for the money collected by way of taxation. And the Cardinal backs the nefarious plan.

Robin must decide if he is a nobleman who has become a thief and an outlaw…or if he is stepping into the heroic role he was always intended to fulfill.

Movie Review Robin Hood

My Thoughts on Robin Hood

I enjoyed this latest adaptation of a favorite story. All the characters were present in the film, with fresh voices and slightly different relationships in a few instances. I liked the angle this story took, of Robin getting close to the Sheriff to better discover the man’s true intentions.

The cinematography was gorgeous and the action scenes well done. Visually this Robin Hood is a very appealing movie with much for the eyes to feast on and appreciate.

I’ve read criticism for the costuming, as the characters’ clothes were a unique blend of historical, contemporary and futuristic. This was intentional! The film’s set and costume designers were instructed very specifically about the desired look and they succeeded in accomplishing their directives. Rather than be critical that the clothes weren’t 100% historically accurate, I loved the overall look. The artist in me appreciated the marvelous creativity unleashed in the movie.

The use of the bows and the rapid firing of the arrows actually is an ancient technique. Lars Andersen of Denmark is an archery master. He was hired to teach the rapid fire and double arrow techniques to the cast. Take a look at one of his impressive YouTube Videos.

Movie Review Robin Hood

Fresh Robin Hood

I found a lot to like about this newest take on a familiar story. The fresh elements added to the retelling rather than detracting from it, for me. If I wanted to see Robin Hood told in the same way every time, I’d simply rewatch an older version.

But look what I would have missed! Alan Rickman’s darkly humorous Sheriff. Cary Ewles’ sarcasm. Russell Crowe’s gritty portrayal of the hero. Kevin Costner’s appearing and disappearing English accent. All the variations of the story combined create a much bigger and richer picture. I gain a nugget of truth, an aha, or words of inspiration from each one.

And that’s why I attend movies in the first place…to learn more about the way the world works and to discover in deeper ways who I am.

Movie Review Robin Hood

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Yesterday I joined my mom and sister for a movie. We selected Fantastic Beasts : The Crimes of Grindelwald. I’m an ardent Harry Potter fan. I own the books and I’m slowing reading my way through the series. I’ve seen all eight of the Harry Potter films multiple times.

Two years ago a new series of movies launched, with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This story in the wizarding world takes place in the 1920s and predates the time of Harry Potter, while building toward those events. The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second film of five in this series.

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The stars of this fantasy film include Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Ezra Miller, Allison Sudol, and Claudia Kim . J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay, based on characters she created in the Potter world. Directed by David Yates, the movie caries a PG-13 rating, for fantasy action sequences, and has a run time of 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

Back to England

Set one year after the first film, the story opens with Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) escaping from his guards, en route to the British Ministry of Magic. Newt Scamander (Redmayne) is back in England as well, alone, caring for his growing collection of fantastic beasts.

He is approached by Albus Dumbledore (Law) with a mission: find Credence (Miller), the troubled young man thought dead in New York. Credence, who survived a vicious attack in North America, left his controlling adoptive mother. He seeks his birth family in Europe and desires to learn his story.

Credence ends up in Paris, France. He joins a traveling circus, and befriends Nagini (Kim), who has the ability to transform into a serpent. Together they abandon the circus, following a trail that might lead to Credence’s birth mother.

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

Converging in Paris

As Credence searches for his true family, Grindelwald takes up residence in Paris. He is looking for Credence, whom he feels is key to a future where wizards rule the world.

Also arriving in Paris is Newt, with his impossible suitcase full of beasts. He unexpectedly meets up with companions from New York (and the first film), Jacob (Fogler) and Queenie (Sudol). Newt inquires about Tina (Waterston), Queenie’s sister and the woman Newt loves. As it turns out, Tina is in Paris too, hoping to find Credence before Grindelwald does.

And finally, Newt’s brother Theseus (Turner) and future sister-in-law, Leta Lestrange (Kravitz), are in the city as well, hunting for Credence with the intention of keeping him safe.

Wizards face off against wizards, and mysteries deepen as old families find new connections and new family members even. And a darkly charismatic master woos more and more from the wizarding community to join him and create a new world order.

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

My Thoughts on The Crimes of Grindelwald

This film, that transitions to the middle of the story in this five part series, does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It adds depth to the tale, without resolving much of anything. In fact, it creates more questions than it answers…questions that will be answered as the story unfolds.

I enjoyed this return visit to the Potter Universe. As a fan I found much to rejoice over. Visually this is a stunning film, with fast paced action, rich backgrounds and those fantastic, magical beasts. I also appreciated all the Harry Potter references, known as Easter Eggs in movie terms. These are little nods to future events and characters that I know well.

It was wonderful to return to Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, years and years before a boy named Harry would be a student there. And how fascinating to see a young Dumbledore, who would later become Hogwart’s Headmaster and the greatest of Wizards. Jude Law marvelously captures the older wizard’s gentle spirit, familiar mannerisms and twinkling eyes, in a fresh and dapper way.

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

More Fantastic Beasts to Come

Jonny Depp, whom many felt was a controversial choice for Grindelwald, plays the dark wizard well. Depp excels at losing himself in a character and this is no exception. He is compelling to watch.

Being unfamiliar with this lead up to Voldemort and Harry Potter, I have no idea where the story goes from The Crimes of Grindelwald. However, I’m captivated and curious. I’m in. I look forward to seeing the next chapter, in 2020.

Until then, I’ll be rewatching the Harry Potter films and reading the books and humming that unforgettable theme song.

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

Movie Review: Outlaw King

The Scotsman Robert the Bruce, also known as the Outlaw King, began his reign in 1306 as a fugitive. This historical man is the subject of a new Netflix film, which released Friday on the network.

As one with Scottish ancestry, and a deep love for the country, I couldn’t wait to watch this biographical drama.

Movie Review Outlaw King

Outlaw King

Outlaw King stars Chris Pine, Stephen Dillane, Billy Howle, Tony Curran, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh and Josie O’Brien. David Mackenzie directed the film, which carries an R rating, for violence, language and brief nudity. Outlaw King has a run time of 2 hours and 1 minute.

Movie Review Outlaw King

Oppression and Civil Skirmishes

This story takes place immediately after William Wallace’s efforts to thwart the English by uniting the Scottish nobles against them. King Edward I (Dillane) of England seeks to control the Scots, and any desire to place a king of their own on the throne, by demanding taxation, pressing men into armed service, and creating alliances with nobility.

During this time of unrest and uncertainty, Wallace is killed by the English, inciting rage throughout Scotland.

Robert the Bruce (Pine), a descendant of Scotland’s King David, decides to challenge Edward I. First he eliminates a powerful rival for the throne, then he has himself declared king, becoming Robert I.

Robert the Bruce and his wife Elizabeth de Burgh (Pugh) are inaugurated King and Queen of Scots at Scone on March 25, 1306.

Movie Review Outlaw King

Fugitive King

The news immediately sends a ripple through Scotland and England. King Edward sends his son, Edward (Howle), Prince of Wales, to handle the upstart. Most of the Scottish nobility don’t recognize Bruce as king and fail to support him.

Robert the Bruce narrowly escapes capture when an English army attacks during the Battle of Methven. He sends his wife and daughter Marjorie (O’Brien) to safety while he becomes a fugitive. Not only is Robert trying to establish an independent Scotland, he’s also facing a civil war.

Surrounded by a small group of men led by his friend Angus Macdonald (Curran) and wild man James Douglas (Taylor-Johnson), the outlaw king strategizes. As they seek to draw more men to their side, for the battles that will come, the group seizes one castle after another. The Bruce makes the decision that every castle he takes is to be destroyed because for King Edward to win Scotland, he must garrison Scotland. And he can’t do that unless he has castles to seize.

Movie Review Outlaw King

Fight With Me

As more of Scotland’s people rally to the new king, England’s Prince of Wales closes in. King Edward I dies en route to battle the usurper. His son, whom many see as a weaker man, assumes leadership of the troops.

Robert I uses ingenious tactics to overthrow the superior military force that approaches. He arms hundreds of men with 20-foot-long spears that they hold, straight out in front of them. And he takes advantage of the boggy, marshy land that will become the battlefield. The Bruce deliberately chooses an area where the strength of the English troops can’t be brought into play. The English are knights in armor on horses, and the Scots are men on foot. They lead the unsuspecting English into the mire of the marshes where they become trapped.

Robert’s first victory as king comes in that place, on May 1307, at what is known as the Battle of Loudoun Hill.

Movie Review Outlaw King

My Thoughts on Outlaw King

I appreciate the attention to detail and the authenticity in this gritty action packed film. Fact checking is one of the things I do with historical movies and this one is extremely accurate in the telling of Bruce’s story.

I watched the unfolding of Outlaw King with teary eyes. This was a difficult time in Scotland’s history. Robert the Bruce sacrificed much to keep his country independent. The Scottish people suffered. As the English searched for the fugitive king, they ransacked and burned villages as they went, killing the men, sending the women and children to England.

Bruce’s wife and daughter were taken captive as well and sent out of the country. Fortunately they were recovered, unharmed, later. The King and Queen of Scotland raised a family together. Their descendant, James VI, later became king over both Scotland and England.

Movie Review Outlaw KingThe actor portraying James Douglas, who would become known as Black Douglas.

My Gratitudes

It’s easy to come up with five gratitudes, in connection with Outlaw King.

I’m grateful for this movie, which is in my favorite genre, historical drama. I especially appreciate its accuracy. My Scottish blood thrills to the fierceness of the people, and their desire to live in freedom. My own fierce independence is surely a result of my Scottish ancestry. And finally, seeing the mountains and rivers and lochs of Scotland pierces my heart and creates such a desire to “go home”.

Outlaw King drew from me hearty cheers for battles won, and a sigh of longing for Scotland. I’ll be there again soon. And when I next stand on Scottish soil I will pause to express gratitude for Robert the Bruce, who did so much to unite this beautiful country.

Movie Review Outlaw King